Thursday, November 17, 2011

Romaji is for wimps!

I’ve been asked a few times if I could do a version of the Japanese Verb Conjugator that displays proper Japanese text rather than Romaji. This is something I’d definitely like to do in the future however there’s a couple of things stopping me at the moment: firstly I don’t know how to go about doing the required programming using Japanese characters. Secondly even once I’ve worked that out it’s bound to be a pretty time consuming job to actually do it.

One thing I’ve noticed while trawling through the web is that some people  - language purists and/or serious students maybe – discourage or actually look down on the use of Romaji.  A link to this site from a well known Japanese language guru’s website is qualified with the statement “shame about the Romaji”;  Various statements I’ve read include “learning Romaji is lazy”, “Japanese people don’t learn Romaji “ and “Romaji is evil” (I think the last one was a joke). The logic being that you should do things properly and take the time to learn Japanese by using Japanese characters,  just like the Japanese people do.

A couple of things to say in defence of lazy Romaji users like myself…

1: In some cases Japanese people do learn Romaji. Firstly It’s sometimes used for typing Japanese text even on Japanese keyboards.  Even more strangely – according to my wife who is Japanese – some children’s text books use Romaji as an aid for Japanese children to learn Hiragana. Is that weird or what ? Learning a foreign alphabet in order to help you learn your own writing system! Ok this knowledge was gleaned from my son attending a Japanese school for children in London, but they are using proper Japanese primary school text books.

2: For many people who learn a foreign language, initially at least, their aim is to be able to verbally communicate - that’s what makes learning a foreign language fun after all. Saying the right words is what’s important – the fact that it’s Romaji in your head doesn’t matter to the other person. The only time I’ve reached anything like real fluency in another language was studying Spanish full time at university for four years including a year in a Spanish speaking country.  Most people haven’t got the luxury of that much time due to work and family commitments. In my own case I need to learn new stuff at work almost every day and only have a limited capacity in my head for other things. The priority for the average person planning a holiday or business trip is to learn enough of the language to find their way around and maybe make some friends with the locals. They don’t need the extra complication of learning hiragana and katakana, not to mention thousands of Kanji.

Don’t get me wrong – if you’ve managed to achieve fluency and master reading and writing Japanese I take my hat off to you, especially if you’ve done it without living in Japan and/or studying it in full time education. If you are planning to live and work in Japan then I would agree it's vital to learn as much as you can. It’s to my own shame that I haven’t even mastered Hiragana and my own son has been patronizing me since he was four. Maybe it’s about time I did that Kana version of the verb conjugator!


  1. I learned the hiragana in a year, and through really really dull and boring memorization games and flashcard practices, i ingrained them into my head, and can pretty much read them on command! Now i'm doing the same for katakana as well as beginner kanji. After I've learned a lot of simple kanji and mastered katakana, i'm going to start with grammar. I think hiragana is important, but without using romanji to learn the sounds they made first, i never could have learned to associate the character with the sound. ALSO- if you have a Mac, setting up the Japanese language is easy.

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  4. If Romaji is for wimps, then let us all be wimpy! Even if we have never been one before!

    And thanks for the handy table, it helps me a lot.

  5. lol it took me a week for ひらがな and かたかな

  6. Learning 5 new hiragana a day and continuously reviewing the perviously learning characters allows anyone to learn all of the hiragana in less than 2 weeks. But as for romaji, I say it does encourage poor pronunciation at first. But for conjugation and learning purposes, this site is more useful written in romaji.

  7. I will freely admit I am a wimp. . . but I'm a wimp who wants to share Japanese with her daughter and though I can speak it, I cannot write or read either of the Japanese alphabets. . . sooo. . can you recommend any children's books written in Romaji? Or tell me where to find them?

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  9. I would definitely recommend Dr Moku app for the Kana. i picked up hiragana in a few hours, and katakana a day. it just sticks in your head so easy with the way they explain it.

  10. It took me about 6 weeks initially for Hirigana and Katakana - followed by almost a year of follow on in my SRS system (Anki). I used the Anki deck download form Fluent Forever. It was a bit of a pain, but the characters slowly sank in until they became second nature. If it weren't for an SRS memory system, I don't think I'd ever be able to speak Japanese.

  11. Learning Hiragana and Katakana is not going to help you learn to speak Japanese any better than just learning rōmaji.

    In fact, learning them is only going to slow you down. Why? Because you can't read Japanese text without learning all of the Kanji that you will encounter. So, if you're not going to learn all of the thousands of Kanji you need to read effectively, then there's little point in wasting your time learn learning Hiragana and Katakana.

    Kanji and Kana are for Japanese literacy, but rōmaji is ALL you need to develop fluency in speaking Japanese, because your primary input method will be listening anyway.

    The only problem with rōmaji is that it's a foreign system of writing which competes with the native, historic and cultural significant system, so many Japanese despise it. Not because their native system is better or even any good, but just because of their pride in their culture.

    The problem with Kanji is that it's a closed system: you simply can't extend it; it's probably impossible to create new kanji for new words. But this is the 21st century, and new words arrive everyday.

    Another problem with Kanji is you can't use it as a useful input method for computers and cellphones, and if you're going to be multi-lingual then rōmaji is the best way to go, now and forever because you can easily type in english and Japanese.

    Avoiding rōmaji simply because someone tells you it's evil without explaining why would be stupid.